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Multicultural Education

by Keith Wilson
Dean, College of Education and Human Services
Southern Illinois University Carbondale
Pros of Multicultural Education
A significant demographic transformation is on the horizon for the United States of America.
Bennett (1995) estimates that "by the year 2000, over 30 percent of our school age
population will be children of color" (p.18). Additionally, research has indicated that ethnic
minority students are disproportionately poor, dropping out of school, being suspended or
expelled, and achieving far below their potential relative to the ethnic majority (Bennett,
1995). Consequently, teachers must prepare themselves and their children for the ever
changing challenge of interacting and communicating with diverse races. Reduction of fear,
ignorance, and personal detachment are possible benefits to a Multicultural education. The
following excerpts are taken from Paul Gorski (1995), a University of Virginia Doctoral
student during a case study interview:
The idea of political correctness with the black race astounds me. I found it extremely
interesting that some blacks in our class prefer to be called African American. In all of my
classes...I have felt like I was stepping on egg shells as to not offend the blacks in my class.
I am honestly glad it is not that big of an issue to my fellow classmates--it promotes a more
comfortable, genuine environment for me to be totally honest and carefree.
Initially, the student interviewed in the case study reflected an attitude that would probably
not facilitate consensus building, respect for other cultures, or fostering of cultural pluralism
within different racial communities and in the classroom. However, with integrated
curriculum, social activities, administrative support, and staff training, fear, ignorance, and
personal detachment may be notably reduced in both students and teachers. Benefits to
multicultural education can help to eliminate the crux of stereotyping, prejudice, racism, and
bigotry (Fear, Ignorance, dis-ownership). Case study analyzed:
1. fear: "I have felt like I was stepping on egg shells as to not offend blacks in my
2. ignorance: "I found it extremely interesting that some blacks in our class prefer to be
called African American."
3. dis-ownership: "I am honestly glad it is not that big of an issue to my fellow
The writer agrees with Hilliard and Pine (1990), "if Americans are to embrace diversity, the
conscious and unconscious expressions of racism (sexism) within our society must be
identified and done away with" (p. 7). Multicultural education is the potential catalyst to bring
all races together in harmony.
Cons of Multicultural Education
According to some views, if one wants to alienate and further fragment the communication
and rapport between ethnic groups, implement multicultural education. As stated by Bennett
(1995), "to dwell on cultural differences is to foster negative prejudices and stereotypes, and
that is human nature to view those who are different as inferior" (p. 29). Thus, multicultural

education will enhance feelings of being atypical. Schools in America may see multicultural
education as a way to "color blind" their students to differences. Administrators may view the
"color blind" approach as a gate keeper that assures equal treatment and justice for all
students and as a way to facilitate compatibility and sameness of all cultures. A common
statement from this line of thinking is, 'we are more alike than different'. We should focus on
the similarities and not the differences to achieve greater equanimity among the races.
Ethnicity is breaking up many nations. If one looks at the former Soviet Union, India,
Yugoslavia, and Ethiopia, all countries are in some type of crisis. Closer to home, one
observes the divisiveness of the Rodney King and O.J. Simpson trials in our country, we can
see how focusing on race and multiculturalism may lead to a further divisiveness between
the races in America. Over time, multicultural education may have unplanned for and
undesired consequences. For example, multicultural education rejects the historic American
goals of assimilation and integration of ethnic cultures into the majority culture. Hence, the
perception may result that America is a country of distinct ethnic groups, as opposed to a
more traditional view of the country that involves individuals making decisions for the good of
the order (Schlesinger, 1991).
Multicultural education may increase the resentment encountered by students who feel that
changes in school traditions, curriculum, and academic standards are not necessary to get
along and respect students from ethnic minorities. Since many institutions resist change of
any kind, passive resistance on the part of the administration may simulate acceptance of
the tenants of Multicultural education. Of course, excepting the tenants of multicultural
education should be avoided with enthusiasm and optimism.
Definition of Terms

Stereotype n. 1. a standardized image or conception shared by all members of a

social group.

stereotyping, prejudice, racism, and bigotry.


Bennett, C. (1995). Comprehensive multicultural education: Theory and practice (3rd ed.).
Massachusetts: Allen & Bacon.
Hilliard, A. & Pine, G. (1990, April). Rx for Racism: Imperatives for American's schools. Phi
Delta Kappan, (593 - 600).
Gorski, P. (1995). A course in race and ethnicity. Language of closet racism [ On-line:
Schlesinger. A. (1991, July 8). The cult of ethnicity, good and Bad. Time, 21. Word Perfect
Corporation [Computer Software]. (3rd. Eds.) (1994).
Collins Electronic English Dictionary & Thesaurus. Orem, Utah. Authors.